Back to Navigation

Billionaires | Munk Debates

EPISODE #15

Billionaires

Be it resolved, a society that allows billionaires to exist is immoral

Guests
Bhaskar Sunkara
James Pethokoukis

About this episode

Income inequality in the US is at an all-time high. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett now own as much wealth as the bottom half of all US households combined. Bernie Sanders and his growing political movement believe that billionaires should be taxed out of existence. That the uber-rich are part of a new oligarchical system that grows its wealth at the expense of everyone else and which wields too much power over politics and democratic institutions. Defenders of billionaires argue that penalizing the wealthy is bad public policy – the super rich are innovators and wealth creators who produce widespread employment and economic growth. Billionaires are also living proof that the long-cherished American dream is alive and well. We need to reward entrepreneurial vision and drive, and not demonize the rich.

Share:

Guests

Bhaskar Sunkara

"Billionaires are a product of a society has given a tremendous power and wealth to a few while giving declining shares of this great socially-created wealth to many."

Bhaskar Sunkara

"Billionaires are a product of a society has given a tremendous power and wealth to a few while giving declining shares of this great socially-created wealth to many."

Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin magazine and publisher of Catalyst journal, both of which offer socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture, as well as critiques of capitalism from a global perspective. An advocate of democratic socialism, he is the author of “The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality,” and a columnist at The Guardian.  

James Pethokoukis

"If you want to have more opportunity for your children, if you want higher standards of living, it's going to come from a dynamic, capitalist economy where people innovate, partially, because they can become rich."

James Pethokoukis

"If you want to have more opportunity for your children, if you want higher standards of living, it's going to come from a dynamic, capitalist economy where people innovate, partially, because they can become rich."

James Pethokoukis is the Dewitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he analyzes economic policy and edits the AEIdeas blog. He is a regular CNBC contributor and a columnist for The Week.
Before joining AEI, he was the Washington columnist for Reuters “Breakingviews,” the opinion and commentary wing of Thomson Reuters, and the business editor and economics columnist for US News & World Report.
A graduate of Northwestern University and the Medill School of Journalism, Mr. Pethokoukis is also a 2002 “Jeopardy!” champion.
 

Show Notes

According to analysis by economists from Berkeley, the richest 0.1% of Americans have seen their share of wealth nearly triple from 7% to 20% between the late 1970s and 2016 … While the opposite is happening in the bottom 90%, where their share of wealth has declined from 35% to 25%. Elizabeth Warren cites these numbers in her proposal for a tax on millionaires.
 
Over 200 billionaires – including Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg, have signed the giving pledge – committing to give away the majority of their money to charity.
 
Both Bhaskar and James talk about Scandinavia. Bhaskar says it represents the success of a democratic socialist system, whereas James argues that deregulation and minimal government intervention allowed the countries to flourish, and create more billionaires per capita than in the United States. Here is a look at the Nordic model’s capitalist and pro-business policies that allow for a flourishing social safety net.
 
James talks about Germany’s worker cooperatives. A worker cooperative is a cooperative that is owned and self-managed by its workers. Cooperatives differ from limited-liability companies and joint-stock companies through their democratic decision-making processes.
 
Bernie Sanders’ plan to drastically reduce the amount of billionaires in America includes establishing an annual tax on the top 0.1 percent of U.S. households. Under this plan, the “tax on extreme wealth” the wealth of billionaires would be cut in half over 15 years 
 
Bhaskar talks about the rise in income inequality over the past 30 years. In 1950, rich Americans paid 70 percent of their income in taxes. By 1980, the 400 wealthiest people paid 47 percent of their incomes in taxes. In 2018, it was 23 percent. This is a graphic that shows the yearly change in tax income.
 
After Elizabeth criticized billionaires and proposed a wealth tax to address income inequality, Billionaire Leon Cooperman published an open letter to the Democratic Senator, arguing against this proposal and promoting the importance of billionaires in wealth creation, innovation, and philanthropy.
 
James talks about how Jeff Bezos started Amazon as a small online bookstore out of his garage. Here are some other billionaire start-up stories.